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NLRB Accuses Starbucks of “Purge” of Organizer-Workers in Pittsburgh

A judge ruled that coffee giant Starbucks violated federal labor law by terminating the workers.

People picket in front of a Starbucks store in the Greektown neighborhood on June 24, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois.

In what union members called a “huge victory for workers,” an administrative judge with the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that coffee giant Starbucks violated federal labor law by terminating organized workers in several Pittsburgh locations, accusing the company of orchestrating a “purge” of employees leading the unionization effort.

The ruling by Judge Robert A. Ringler found that the company and local store managers in Pittsburgh abused their power and unlawfully targeted workers organizing with Pittsburgh Starbucks Workers United. As part of the decision, Ringler ordered the company to reinstate four fired workers and compensate any employees who lost income due to the illegal labor practices.

Noting how the specific union members were consistently treated differently than other non-union employees and ultimately fired, Ringler said in his ruling that a “repeated pattern of unlawful activity abundantly demonstrates a casual relationship between their firings and union activities.”

Three of the fired workers were part of the union’s 5-member bargaining unit, a fact that Ringler suggested was not a coincidence. “Starbucks fired 3 of the 5 members of the Union’s effects bargaining team,” he said in the ruling. “This appears to be less than coincidental. Or put another way, a whopping 60% firing rate for the effects bargaining team seems more like a purge than an evenhanded practice.”

Tori Tambellini, one of the workers fired by Starbucks, applauded the judge’s ruling. “I absolutely cannot wait to be back on the shop floor with my coworkers, fighting for the contract we deserve,” Tambellini said Monday.

Starbucks Workers United, the national union behind the push to organize the stores, said the 50-page ruling by Judge Robert A. Ringler “exposes the ludicrous and simply implausible excuses Starbucks has used to justify their union-busting actions. It also shows just how far the company is willing to go to stop workers from organizing, and just how scared of their own workers this company is.”

According to Mashed:

Starbucks’ Pittsburgh union alleged that the Starbucks corporation and shift supervisors abused their power and interrogated, threatened, and unjustly terminated members of the union. Supervisors allegedly stated that union members would lose their benefits, be barred from transferring stores, and would be deprived of shift assistance during rush hours. The supervisors also engaged in unlawful surveillance to determine which employees were working with the union.

As workers at Starbucks stores nationwide have racked up organizing victories, the company has been hit numerous times with NLRB rulings that found unlawful labor practices.

“Not even a multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks is above the law,” Starbucks Workers United tweeted Monday night. “Workers are fighting back against Starbucks’ illegal union-busting campaign and are WINNING. This ruling is just one step in our campaign to hold Starbucks accountable.”

“Time is ticking, Starbucks and the longer you continue your anti-union crusade,” the union added, “the more the public will learn about your truly heinous actions against workers. It’s not too late to stop this now, do the right thing, and come to the bargaining table in good faith.”

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